In everything I write, I typically point out that if we want our kids to improve, they must have opportunities to stretch their boundaries. Indeed, they must be encouraged to try new things and take new risks.
Whether we realize it or not, most of our kids have been conditioned to play it conservative. It’s why I am often uninspired by what I see from high school players. I find many of them predictable, or worse, boring.
I believe the primary reason for this is a fixation on the “short game.” By short game, I mean the today, this game, this moment, this season, right now. Most of youth sports are way too caught up in winning the season or the game or the quarter. Or the day!
I get it. I really do. I have never known anyone who wants to win more than I do! But in our fixation to win right now, we often and unknowingly hinder our kids’ ability to win the “long game.” We fail to realize that winning now is often the number one reason why they fail to win later. Our short-term perspective forces kids to play to their strengths so often that they fail to develop the strengths they need to win later on…when winning actually matters!
In youth sports today, we are like runners who seek to crown themselves champions of mile 6 during a 26 mile marathon. Ok fine, you are in first place, but who cares? The race isn’t done it. The quick sprint is often a recipe for disaster. Burnout. Or just plain mediocrity at the finish.
We want to help kids win the “long game.” This may mean some sacrifices (or sub par performances) at mile 6, but such sacrifices are well worth it. Too many kids are either failing to finish the race or peaking too early, because we are too fixated on winning now.
This leads me to my thought for this post: encourage your kids to shoot the ball!
Shooting the ball well is a hot topic today. The Warriors (and now all the NBA) have made it cool. What is often unrecognized, however, is that our youth basketball climate doesn’t encourage kids to shoot the ball with the freedom and fearlessness that is the foundation for all great shooting. The weekend tournaments or winter leagues do not encourage kids to let it fly!
This is a grave mistake for their basketball future. I would argue that for most kids, the ability to shoot the ball with confidence is the most important thing they can develop. But where do they develop this ability?
In the driveway? The empty gym? Warm-ups? Kind of, but that’s never enough. Practice shooting is essential, but game shooting is where kids really develop the confidence and identity necessary to become great shooters. Not only that, but game shooting (and missing!) is the key to motivating them to practice more.
The big thing you need to understand, however, is that most kids (and people in general) view jump shots as a bigger risk. Missing a lay-up is okay in their world. Missing the 15-24 foot jumper is a lot harder. The other kids (and spectators and coaches) may think you are a bit crazy. They are risking more. They may even airball it by 3 feet.
If you are worried about winning the “short game” you will take less of these risks and encourage your kids to do the same. But if you want to be a more effective player in 4-10 years when those shots really matter, you better shoot them now! If you want to win the long-game, let it fly!
If you want your child or your team to become better shooters, you must encourage them to shoot. Now. Today. You must then keep encouraging them when they miss. You must teach them that those shots really are good shots (and they are often better than we think!) and that if they shoot them enough, they will figure out how to make them! Maybe not right away, but that’s fine. Give them enough space and time and many will learn how to make them when it really counts.
So please, let’s encourage our kids to launch more jump shots. It may be tougher to watch now, but it will make them much more enjoyable to watch in the future. And isn’t that what we want?